Allahs Hunger for Human Flesh
Regarding your New Oxford Note Barbarians Inside the Temple (Sept.): It is heart-sinking to read that the Holy Father, in response to the murder of a Catholic priest by Islamic terrorists, condemned every form of hatred. The Scriptures repeatedly say that God loves those who hate evil. The Pope should have at least replaced hatred with evil in his condemnation. What enlightened thinker has the right to judge a terrorists, or anyone elses, emotions anyway?
Yes, it takes hatred to explode shrapnel into innocent infants and adults. Golda Meirs observation, We will only have peace with [our Muslim neighbors] when they love their children more than they hate us, is succinct, but could the late Israeli prime minister have been slightly off in her analysis? Although it doesnt strike an attacked citizenrys emotions as effectively, Meir would have hit the mark by saying, We will only have peace with them when they love their children more than they are willing to obey their god. After all, Islam means submission to Allah. It is as if Muslims continuous slaying of infidels is done in submission to their gods hunger for human flesh.
The NORs response to Pope Franciss equation of violent Muslims with violent Catholics was excellent. The bishop of Romes judgment of Italians who commit random acts of domestic violence, as the NOR puts it, is wrong at a very basic level. How does he know that these violent Italians are baptized Catholics, and more importantly, how does he know that they are practicing Catholics? On the other hand, we know that Fr. Jacques Hamels Algerian killers actually attended a mosque and shouted Allahu Akbar! after their ritual of human sacrifice. How many Italians exclaim God is great! after fatally assaulting their mothers-in-law (no jokes, please)?
Our Church leaders like to have it both ways. They are more than happy to count the wayward baptized as members of the Church, while knowing that oftentimes, in the end, they will receive eternal separation from God. Would Pope Francis say that Adolf Hitler remained a Catholic just because he was baptized? Think of all the Catholic violence the Pope could cite if such were the case!
After many years, Ive finally found a nit to pick with the NOR. The last sentence of Barbarians Inside the Temple asks the question, Can the Catholic Church at least conjure up a coherent response to the existential threat posed by militant Islam? There never could be an existential threat to the Church. Jesus tells us so (cf. Mt. 16:18).
Peter F. Reilly
West Palm Beach, Florida
THE EDITOR REPLIES:
If one believes Catholic writer Hilaire Bellocs historical analysis in The Great Heresies (1938), at one time Islam nearly destroyed Christendom. Belloc asserts that if it were not for the great reaction and awakening of Europe, culminating in the Crusades, Islam would have destroyed the Christian religion. The Crusades, however, failed, in Bellocs estimation, because they did not wipe Islam from the map. Instead, Islam remains a permanent rival to us, the most formidable and persistent enemy which our civilization has had. (Note that Belloc uses the terms Christian religion, Christendom, and our civilization interchangeably.)
Christ assured us that the gates of Hell wont prevail against the Church. Does that mean that Islam cant pose an existential threat to the Church? It did centuries ago, as Belloc would have it, and it still does, at least according to one Catholic churchman who has studied Islamic texts and thinkers. That would be Raymond Cardinal Burke, who, while promoting his new book Hope for the World this August, touched on the subject of Islam. Cardinal Burke said, Our ancestors gave their lives to save Christianity because they saw that Islam was attacking sacred truth . Capitulating to Islam would be the death of Christianity. A threat cant be much more existential than that.
Christianitys most formidable and persistent enemy has been reasserting itself, as Belloc predicted it would, in a most dramatic fashion. Can we expect another great reaction and awakening in Europe or the U.S.? That hardly seems realistic, especially since our Church seems, at best, confused about the nature of the historical struggle between Islam and Christendom (or what remains of it). Of course, as we wrote in that New Oxford Note, The Catholic Church has neither the desire nor the ability to wage a military battle; she has no army to deploy and recourse to no weapons but those of the Spirit. The challenge at this point, as we see it, is for the Church to conjure up a coherent response to the threat posed by Islam. To do that, the pertinent powers in the Church must first assess soberly the geopolitical realities that are smacking us in the face (and slitting the throats of our priests). They must agree that a threat indeed exists, and then begin to speak with one voice on a topic that, even at the highest levels of the Church hierarchy, has thus far been obscured by inaccurate statements, euphemistic language, logical fallacies, faulty analogies, and willful denials.
For the latest on the Churchs linguistic pathologies when it comes to talking about Islam, we refer readers to Timothy D. Luschs article A Year of Magical Thinking on page 40 of this issue.
The Default Male Position
Regarding the letters from Anne Barbeau Gardiner and Alice von Hildebrand (Sept.): Yes, we modern women are very much aware of how badly pagans treated and treat us. Misogyny is the default male position, and Christianity is probably the only way of educating them out of it. Christian men do not burn widows alive, bind womens feet, take multiple wives, or legally starve women for not pleasing them in bed.
Women are also aware of all the laws and restrictions that Christian men have imposed on us over the centuries, in spite of our supposed influence. When we are excluded from decision-making, in whatever context, the rules will inevitably work against us, from husbands of the past stealing our property to todays 31 states that grant rapists paternity rights. No churches supported us in our fight for suffrage; we would be foolish to forget that.
The Church has thoughtfully armed women with the strength and tools to resist societal and personal pressure. Women who opt to follow her teaching on sexuality get plenty of practice at resisting overwhelming pressure. So modern Christian women are well positioned to resist calls to submit to male headship in marriage and instead make marriage a loving framework for mutual respect. Besides, are Christian men sure they want to be top dog while worshiping a God who casts down the mighty from their seats?
A Splendid Example
Thank you for David D. Jividens article A Panoramic View of the Real Pulcheria (Jul.-Aug.). In the recognition of women whose witness has influenced the life of the Church, St. Pulcheria remains largely unnoticed.
Few realize the depth of St. Pulcherias self-gift in the formation of her young brother, who became Emperor Theodosius II. More important was her defense of the authentic faith regarding Mary as Theotokos, and her responsibility, as empress, together with Emperor Marcian, for the convocation of the Council of Chalcedon, which dogmatically confirmed faith in Christs two natures without confusion, change, division, separation. The gratitude of Pope St. Leo the Great in his Letter to Pulcheria says what many need to hear of her today: Although the Christian faith may be attacked by various tricks of depraved men, it cannot be disturbed as long as you are present and prepared by the Lord to defend it.
What a splendid example of male/female collaboration in the Church!
Sr. Mary Timothy Prokes, F.S.E.
St. Meinrad Seminary
St. Meinrad, Indiana
The Wrong Pope
In his review of Pope Franciss new book The Name of God is Mercy (Jul.-Aug.), Ian Hunter chides the Holy Father for contradicting God. Hunter writes that mercy is an attribute of God perhaps, as the Pope here contends, the most important attribute but it is not Gods name.
If Hunter had paid closer attention, he would have seen (on p. 7) that the thought expressed in the title of Franciss book is not original to him but was inspired by the words of his predecessor. On Divine Mercy Sunday in 2008 (Mar. 30), Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI told his audience at the Apostolic Palace, Mercy is in reality the core of the Gospel message; it is the name of God himself, the face with which he reveals himself in the Old Testament and fully in Jesus Christ, the incarnation of creative and redemptive Love (italics added).
Rational Self-Interest vs. Group-Centered Morality
Apart from the skillful characterizations and precise handling of the ideas in play, John M. Gists closet drama on the prisoners dilemma nicely finds a larger context for judging a prisoners motivation than his own liberty (Rational Self-Interest & Justice: A Dialogue, Sept.).
It happens twice in the dialogue. First, the prisoner, Rand, shows early on that he thinks about something other than saving his own hide. He realizes that there is a reality in the world that is more important than his own well-being: the well-being of his infant child. Right there, the dilemma is opened to a different factor. Now we must admit to the situation a prisoners willingness to risk lengthy jail time because of the needs of another.
Piccolino, the detective, tries to argue with him, claiming that Rands daughter will grow up thinking that one of her parents is innocent and the other guilty (if the mother confesses and the father doesnt). But while it sounds as if Piccolino is thinking of the childs future, Rand sees it differently. The presence of at least one parent in the childs life counts for more than anything else. Rand tells him, Shell have her mother to put everything into context.
But that isnt the only complication. Later on, as the interrogation proceeds, Rand decides to confess. The reason here has nothing to do with his personal circumstances. It has to do with the foundations of a rational society. He says, There is no dilemma in the prisoners dilemma because any rational person who concludes that justice and, therefore, the laws, if they are valid, are based on reason will confess for the good of both civil society and the individual citizen.
In other words, the law strives to be just, and so we dont toy with it. We dont lie and manipulate the system. We act as upright beings. Rand confesses because he is guilty.
It is up to Piccolino to bring the issue back to Rands child: Good luck to you, Rand. Youve just made the rules of the game a bit clearer for little Annie. This is a better lesson for his child. It marks Rands previous strategy as faulty. Thats the final lesson I take from Gists drama. The presence of the parent is crucial, but if it means the sacrifice of a proper moral order, then it isnt worth it.
Senior Editor, First Things
New York, New York
John M. Gists creative dialogue demonstrates very well the fluid relativism and paradoxes lurking beneath the surface of the prisoners dilemma. The Nash equilibrium works fine if one approaches the dilemma as an individual, but not so well if instead the player enters as part of a dyad or, beyond that, a team (maybe with a daughter added to the mix, as in Gists dialogue) with firm commitments to the other players. If that is the case, then maximizing the outcome is about what is best for the group as a whole and will result in cooperation. I might even argue that a world without such duties and obligations is not the human world but a mathematical vacuum.
So, rather than some definite rational choice making itself clear, what were really dealing with here is a matter of identity. My calculations and ultimate decision say more about what I bring to the dilemma than anything else, and they suggest that there are many different kinds of rationality and that it may in fact be purely situational. Of course, to speak of a persons own rationality is probably a contradiction in terms, however, since it depends on shared notions of logic, objectivity, the universality of human experience, and so on. But I think it is evident that there are at least two kinds of rationality: one that is self-maximizing and individualistic, and another that is more group-oriented, what we might call social or ecological. (Id dismiss a dyad as an ideal type also, as things are much messier and more inter-tangled in real life than that hence, the preference for speaking of social or ecological connections.) The conclusion that then might follow is to try to find the golden mean between the two, to balance self-rationality and group-rationality, and that would be the optimal result.
Yet perhaps only group-rationality is what is usually meant by morality, what Kierkegaard termed the Ethical. Even if we granted the individualists their mathematical victory in the prisoners dilemma (which could only be done by denying that there could be teams, or such a thing as society), it doesnt necessarily translate at all to ethics, since morality, by definition, deals with should regarding social behavior and interpersonal relationships, not just individual principles in an imaginary Cartesian realm or profit-minded self-interest. As it is typically presented, the prisoners dilemma is thus an exercise in competitive immorality engineered in a way to produce the anti-social, self-centered outcomes desired by the devisers. I wouldnt normally consider myself a communitarian, but even I can recognize that in this game of the prisoners dilemma the dice have always been loaded.
And in the real world, it might be a better and safer move for me to opt for the longest prison sentence possible. Who knows what those streets are like, what enemies Ive made, what loved ones I need to protect, what greater good my sacrifice might serve, etc. Maybe the RAND Corporation or John Nashs imaginary roommate is after me. Either way, I can always make the moral choice to refuse to be a prisoner of individualism.
Dept. of Humanities, Western New Mexico University
Silver City, New Mexico
I enjoyed John M. Gists imaginative, politically incorrect dialogue, but I question his claim that our laws are mostly rational and just. A just society has rational laws; nevertheless, it is rare to find a large nation whose laws are entirely so. The U.S. once combined the virtues of small states with an overarching federal government, but the federal government has adopted an imperial hue. The U.S. Supreme Court increasingly intervenes in ways that are contrary to what many consider just.
As Alasdair MacIntyre argues in After Virtue, many of the moral dilemmas that confront our world are not rationally resolvable, yet the federal government imposes its secular humanist faith on all 50 states. Aristotle held that the subject of ethics limits the applicable degree of rationality; the assumption that the law is perfectly rational may result in mandates that become irrational given divergent interpretations of what rationality means. Moreover, the particular or local details of a given set of facts can temper or even reverse an actions moral implications, as Prof. Gist suggests. Particularity modifies ethical principles, sometimes in sharp ways. Aquinas noted that governments can serve the rulers rather than societys interests, and if such abuse is modest, then it is best to avoid taking action. If such abuse is extreme, then it may be just for societys leaders to depose or even kill a ruler.
In American democracy, the law often is a product of the brokerage of coalitions and special interests, backroom deals, and campaign contributions. Many laws function to serve the needs of particular groups rather than society as a whole. Interests as specific as government-paid social-welfare workers have been able to modify state laws in ways that are beneficial to their professions and deprive the ill or weak of their rights. Such laws reflect neither reason nor godliness; rather, they reflect the selfish needs of professional associations, politicians, businesses, and unions. In The Logic of Collective Action, Mancur Olson shows that up to a high level of cost, the harm special interests cause is unconstrained; special interests can be motivated to extract benefits for themselves via legislation even when significant harm is done to the rest of society.
In the U.S. today, nearly one percent of the population is in prison, which is the second highest rate in the world second only to the piracy-afflicted African country of Seychelles with a population of 92,000. The Vera Institute of Justice claims that Americas prisons have become warehouses for the poor. Half of federal prisoners are in jail for drug offenses, and more state prisoners are admitted for drug crimes than for property or violent crimes, although at a given point in time the percentage incarcerated for drug crimes in state prisons is 20 percent. While one should strive to obey the law, it is unclear that a penalty of years of incarceration for, say, possession of heroin reflects the natural law or reason, especially when the incarceration rate for heroin is significantly greater than for cocaine.
Game theory assumes self-interested, utility-maximizing players, so the prisoners dilemma needs to be interpreted in terms of utility. If someone gains utility from going to prison or from behaving morally, then the traditional prisoners dilemma narrative does not reflect the underlying game. What matters is the structure of the players utilities, not whether the individuals go to prison or otherwise behave morally. Hence, a prisoners dilemma might involve a persons going to prison as an optimal outcome for that person.
Dept. of Business Management, Brooklyn College of the City University of New York
Brooklyn, New York
As a longtime devotee of Platos dialogues, I read with special interest John M. Gists Rational Self-Interest & Justice: A Dialogue. Of course, no one compares to Plato in artistic deftness and philosophical profundity, but I must say that Prof. Gist displays excellence in both of these areas.
Just as Plato exposed the sophistries that permeated the social fabric of fifth-century B.C. Athens, so Gist brings on stage and implicitly critiques some of the dominant assumptions riddling our own society. The facile (but dangerous) charlatanries he mentions only in passing (like Richard Dawkinss The Selfish Gene) can be left aside for now; I wish only to focus on the notion of rational self-interest mentioned in Gists title.
Rational self-interest can be taken in several senses. If it is meant to describe simply the way things are in the real world, then that helps explain why it is one of the leading assumptions driving the frequent application of game theory to real-life situations like economic competition and nuclear brinksmanship.
But the reality-based sense of rational self-interest that people are in fact motivated only to act in their own self-interest is not the only use of the phrase. There is an ethical-theoretical sense as well, which says that people ought only to do that which is in their own self-interest. There is a difference of is and ought here.
Gists dialogue artfully takes several steps away from reality-based rational self-interest and even away from ethical-theoretical rational self-interest toward something beyond. By making Rand incorporate his daughters welfare into his own self-concept, the dialogue moves one step toward altruism. Rand sacrifices his solitary self-interest for that of his family. The next, bigger step comes when Rand comes to the conclusion that, by obeying the laws of ones society, a person is acting in the most rational way. Presumably, his reasoning is that obedience to existing laws delivers the greatest benefit to the greatest number of people.
To my mind, a further step beyond the utilitarian version of reason and justice reached here is needed, and that generates a desideratum for a future dialogue. Starting from the problematic status of positive law in a fallen world, that dialogue might develop an argument pointing toward a law that transcends mere human calculation of self- and group-interest.
This creates an equally urgent desideratum for a discussion of reason that advances beyond reason as a mere calculating tool, one in the service of individual and group profit, to something beyond these. Plato has already raised (and, I believe, answered) these questions in his Republic. There he names a faculty of reason (nous) that can lead us upward toward the transcendent Idea of the Good, than which there is no greater pole star for directing human action. I hope Gist will take on some of these questions in a future dialogue.
Silver City, New Mexico
JOHN M. GIST REPLIES:
To Mark Bauerlein
I would add that the moral order and the realm of rationality are intimately and inextricably connected, though I agree in part with Kierkegaard that the former appears, on rare occasions, to trump the latter. Abraham, who agrees to sacrifice Isaac in the name of faith the very definition of irrationality, it would seem makes perfect sense on the part of God. Humans, then, are not the fount of rationality. The universe displays Logos, and, through observing it, we, as parts of that universe, attempt to develop our own, in which rationality is a key player. Piccolino and Rand are attempting to do the same.
To Royce Grubic
You end your letter with, Either way, I can always make the moral choice to refuse to be a prisoner of individualism. In this statement, isnt it the individual who ultimately has to make the moral choice? Is that an escapable position? Is morality, then, necessarily an individual act, the very essence of agency? Abraham, one has grounds to assume, thought that he too was making a moral choice. He had to bear that decision alone, as an individual, and he dared not even attempt to explain it to his wife, Sarah, or anyone else. The inability to explain something rationally does not necessarily make it irrational, but it does follow that it is necessarily an individual act. This, acting individually, elevates Abraham to the highest status of a Knight of Faith. For Kierkegaard, then, individual morality is of a higher level than group morality. It is the prisoner, not the population of inmates, who must choose how to respond to being in prison.
To Mitchell Langbert
If the majority of the laws are not rational and, therefore, not just, we are lost, as society is by implication, irrational, and unjust. I tend to agree that the world today seems to be facing the abyss of irrationality, which is indicative of greed run amuck. We should be worried.
But it was Piccolino who emphasized, If a law is irrational, it is up to citizens and lawmakers to challenge and correct it. And, I might add, if lawmakers refuse to be rational, it is up to the citizens to elect new ones. If, as you suggest, the abuse of power is extreme, perhaps Aquinas is right, and it is up to the leaders of society to revolt against the powers that be, which, as you put it, is a federal government [that] imposes its secular humanist faith on all 50 states.
I agree with MacIntyre that many of the moral dilemmas that confront our world are not rationally resolvable. For them, we need Kierkegaards Knight of Faith. But many is not most. I also agree that a just society has rational laws; nevertheless, it is rare to find a large nation whose laws are entirely so. There are plenty of irrational laws out there, but I suggest that the majority of our laws such as those against drunk driving; crimes of violence such as torture, murder, and rape; robbery; false imprisonment; shoplifting; speeding; and the like are built on foundations of rationality. In short, there is still room for hope, but that space is shrinking, and seemingly pretty fast. The time to act is now. We must not go gently into that dark place of surrendering reason, for Hell is an impossibility of reason.
To Steven Heller
I believe the second half of the dialogue (Oct.) addresses your concerns. Please let us know what you think after reading Part II.
Rights Talk: Prioritizing the Person
In his generous and insightful reading of my book Politics of the Person as the Politics of Being, Fr. James V. Schall has understood me well, and no one can ask for more (On Being, Politics & the Ultimate Things, Jul.-Aug.). Even the major point of divergence between us, the central role I assign to human rights, does not amount to a significant disagreement. The tendency for rights discourse to deteriorate into a clamoring incoherence is a danger I fully acknowledge. Indeed, one of the principal purposes of my book is to suggest an alternative setting on the horizon of the person that will render rights talk more coherent. In this regard, I suggest that it is the framework of mutual responsibility that offers the best chance of enlarging the abbreviations that have been invoked as human rights.
When a human being has lost everything and become so disfigured that he seems no longer human (Isa. 52:14), we need a language that evokes the inexhaustibility that cannot be exhausted. It must be a language derived not from theoretical reflection, not from philosophical anthropology, but from the imperative of an emergency response. Human rights are the line of first response to dehumanization. When a person is at the point of annihilation, the first responders are the ones who rush to declare the inalienability of what cannot be alienated. It is for this reason that the invocation of human rights is the barrier raised by every dissident in human history. The limit beyond which oppression may not go is the demarcation of what is at stake in the defense of the person.
Contrary to the view that the Churchs embrace of the language of rights is a merely tactical adjustment to a world she can no longer shape, it marks a deepening of her understanding of the Christian message she is charged with imparting to the world. Prioritizing the person over all that is said and done is consonant with the counsel of hating the sin and loving the sinner. The inexhaustibility of divine mercy illuminates the inexhaustibility of the human being who stands in need of it. Rather than seeing the elevation of rights discourse within the Christian setting as a novelty, we might regard it as reversion to a treasure long held within the Church but now restored to full public view. The novelty of that endorsement turns out, on closer examination, to be a return to what is most original in the Good News. Each person is held within the inviolability of the love of God. It is only the adoption of an unaccustomed language that developed outside of the guidance of the Church that strikes us as novel. The underlying truth, that each human being is an inexhaustibility in himself, was already there from the beginning.
In acknowledging the moral advance marked by the modern idea of rights, the Church does not submit herself to the authority of the secular world. She merely recognizes this secular truth as her own and thereby provides an immeasurably greater assurance of its truth. In accepting, like St. Justin Martyr, that every truth is included within her inheritance, the Church is well placed to bring the concept of inviolable human dignity to its fullest exposition. By valuing rather than disdaining what the world has to offer, the Church exercises an authoritative leadership in a world ready to receive her.
Even when the fragmentary discourse of rights results in incoherent outcomes, the Church must not despair of pointing out the deeper coherence concealed within it. In the midst of the confusion in which the deepest aspirations of the secular world are clouded, the Church confidently affirms what is only glimpsed. The Church holds the eschatological secret that is the truth of the world and every single person in it. The transcendence of the person haltingly expressed in the inexhaustibility of rights is steadily beheld in the eschatological perspective. The Church thereby meets the world in the moment of its deepest self-realization, for in acknowledging the infinitude of each person, the secular has moved beyond itself.
The eschatological index is not the exclusive prerogative of theology. Politics too is marked by that same trajectory in affirming the inexhaustibility of rights even, and perhaps most of all, when it can no longer provide the reason why. It is to the post-secular age, as Jürgen Habermas calls it, that the Church announces the good news of the Beatitudes and thereby discloses the genealogy of human rights. Like the Kingdom of God, the warrant of inviolability is offered to those most in need of it.
Once we place ourselves on the side of the bereft, of those who have lost all, we discover the well spring of mutual responsibility that is the core of the notion of rights. The poor, the hungry, the sorrowing, and the despised provide the most convincing imperative for their protection. It is because the Church puts herself on the side of the forsaken that she can affirm that forsakenness is not the truth about them. The secular scale of value is overturned when we see that the loss of all value has become unconscionable. A man is most richly endowed when he stands before us in nothing more than his bare humanity. To say that humanity is the grounds for reverencing rights and dignity is an abstraction, but the Church sees each of us as God does in our concrete humanity. St. Teresa of Calcutta did not care for the destitute and the dying out of a vague humanitarian impulse. She did it because each person had become, in that instant, the whole world, making the universal concrete and immediate.
Human rights is ultimately a language of the boundary of experience, and it marks the horizon of transcendence as what cannot be eliminated. When all else has been taken away from a man, that intangibility cannot be touched. It is by our willingness to persevere through the chaotic distortions to which the language of human rights is susceptible that we can attain the shining truth that underpins and lies beyond it. The flash of transcendence that is the reality of each person is affirmed in both the inviolability of human rights and the Beatitudes.
Dept. of Politics, The Catholic University of America
FR. JAMES V. SCHALL REPLIES:
As David Walsh mentions, I am in basic agreement with his thesis about our ultimate concern for each person. My problem is with the word rights. This word has become an equivocal word that means two different things. Originally, it came from the Latin word justum and meant the object of the virtue of justice. It was something real in the order of things that needed to be recognized, not manipulated or arbitrarily imposed.
The word rights has taken on a subjective, voluntarist meaning in a line that leads from al-Ghazelli to Scotus, Occam, Suarez, Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Hegel, and Nietzsche each of whom, as Walsh shows in his book, recognized some problem with the arguments. A right came to mean (1) whatever the government legislated and enforced, and (2) that nothing higher could be acknowledged.
Writers like Maritain, Finnis, Walsh, and other scholarly minds, as well as the Church herself, in good Thomist fashion, sought to distinguish the word in such a way as to save its objective meaning.
However, in practice, in a line at least from Justice Kennedy to the Bidens, the Clintons, and many others, from the right to abortion to the right to euthanasia, the right to same-sex marriage, and the right of everyone to use the same bathrooms, the word retains its voluntarist origins, whereby it can mean anything we want it to mean. Thus, if we use it in the classical, objective way, we are inevitably accused of violating someones rights.
One does need to note, I think, that considering the passionate determination of the advocates of the modern rights usage to defend such rights to abortion and so on to the bitter end, we suspect that we are really not dealing with voluntarist minds that could switch to the opposites, but with totalitarian minds for whom no evidence or logic will budge their wills to force everyone to accept what they mean by rights. In short, they would do almost anything to avoid confronting the clarity, logic, and truth of what David Walsh has been driving at.
Birthplace of the Dodge
Congratulations to John Lyon for this penetrating analysis of the decline of the Catholic identity of Notre Dame, the countrys flagship Catholic university (Betraying the Fort, Sept.). Notre Dame was present at the birth of the personally opposed but dodge used by so many Catholic politicians with regard to abortion when it hosted New Yorks Gov. Mario Cuomo, whose 1984 speech became the charter for pro-abortion faux Catholics with political ambitions. Then the university conferred its highest honor, the Laetare Medal, on pro-abortion Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan in 1992. And in 2009 the university honored President Barack Obama, one of the Churchs most formidable foes on the abortion issue. And now we have the Biden calamity. He perhaps forgot about the award when he presided over a same-sex marriage shortly after the ceremony.
The root of the problem at Notre Dame, as at all major Catholic universities, is the radical decline in the number of Catholic faculty members over recent decades. The culture of a school ultimately turns on the culture of its faculty. The cure is obvious, but the medicine is strong, and, by and large, the patients dont like it one bit.
President, Sycamore Trust
All truly free people have the God-given right to make choices. Another way of saying this is that no one has the right to prevent another from choosing for himself, whether that choice be for good or evil. A man who intends murder cannot be refused his right to so choose; however, he can be and is refused the claim that he has the right to make that particular choice. The reason for this refusal is simple: No one has a right to do evil. Society makes a concerted effort to discourage intended murder, but it does not and cannot deprive an individual of his basic right to choose to commit it.
The above case is one in which social ethics unambiguously categorize murder as evil. There are no rational reasons either to encourage murder or provide ways to facilitate it. A politician who admits that he personally opposes murder, but who works to assure that those who intend to commit it have every possible opportunity to carry out their choice, would soon find his way either to prison or an asylum.
Society is split on the issue of whether abortion is evil. Some recognize it as totally and unequivocally wicked while others accept it as the price that must be paid to allow women the right to exercise control over their own bodies. To hold both positions at the same time is clearly impossible. Yet there are politicians today who claim to be personally opposed to abortion but who recognize that women have not only the right to choose in the matter but the right to choose to abort to do what the politician, by his own admission, considers an evil act.
It might be argued that, in a democracy, provision must be made for supporters on both sides of a debated issue like abortion on the one side, making the service reasonably available; on the other, making it neither ubiquitous nor free of charge. If a politician compromised his personal moral antipathy to abortion by accepting the above argument, he would not support efforts to expand the abortion industry by making the service free to those who seek it, subsidizing organizations that provide and encourage it, and effectively promoting the very idea itself. A politician who becomes a shill for abortion cannot rationally claim the moral high ground. He identifies himself as one who believes that abortion is evil, yet he not only supports a womans right to choose in the matter but a womans right to do evil, a right that no one can justifiably claim.
John P. Moench
Monsey, New York
JOHN LYON REPLIES:
I salute William Dempsey for his work with the Sycamore Trust, the most significant agency working with Notre Dame alumni toward anything resembling traditional orthodoxy or orthopraxy in the Catholic academic sphere.
John P. Moench has made a thoughtful addition to our mutual concerns in the common schizoid moral and political sphere many of our politicians inhabit. A nation whose common moral culture erodes as fast as ours appears to be seems destined to descend into being not much more than a plunderbund fortuitously careening about the hemispheres of the world while its politicians of divided moral loyalties perform similar gymnastic exercises in the hemispheres of their brains.
No Idle Pipe Dream
It is common knowledge decidedly sad common knowledge that Catholic higher education in the U.S. very much aint what it used to be. With a few honorable exceptions, the vast majority of our colleges and universities, having been beguiled by the vacuous notion that authentically Catholic and academically excellent are not fully compatible, have freely chosen de-Catholicization, attempting thereby, in rather pathetic fashion, to keep up with the secular academic Joneses.
The wanton jettisoning of what was once a clearly Catholic identity, maintained by those institutions for the greater part of their histories in an unapologetic and unself-conscious manner, took place with breathtaking rapidity, and today the process is well-nigh complete. A few of our institutions, such as the University of Dallas, the University of St. Thomas in Houston, and Aquinas College in Nashville, have managed to keep the faith alive in the groves of Catholic academe without compromising academic standards. Moreover, we have seen over the past several decades, in response to the massive betrayal of trust on the part of most one-time Catholic institutions, the foundation of a number of new colleges, the salient marks of which are that (1) they are clearly and unabashedly Catholic, and (2) they jealously foster the highest academic standards. Christendom College in Virginia and Thomas Aquinas College in California are two prominent examples of these new institutions.
Whether the majority of our once-Catholic colleges and universities will eventually sicken of their prodigal errancy and return to their Fathers house is an open question, but it has to be candidly admitted that the prospects for such a happy eventuality look none too promising at the moment. In what might prove to be a rather long meantime, what is to be done to address this very serious situation? There are today thousands of Catholic youth who are entitled to a genuinely Catholic education. Some of them, already well grounded in their faith, need to have that faith fortified, deepened, and enriched by higher-level education. Others, given the quality of their elementary and high-school education, even if received in purportedly Catholic institutions, have a faith that lacks a solid foundation. Our few new Catholic colleges cannot accommodate all these young people with their varying needs, and even if they could, there is the problem of cost, which now figures large regarding private education. Most Catholic youth today will end up pursuing their higher education in secular institutions, most likely in large state universities.
Michael B. Ewbank has proposed a plan of action that is as studied and intelligent a response to the needs and demands of the present situation as one would want (Why We Need a New Model of Catholic Higher Education, Sept.). It could only have been formulated by someone who has behind him long and varied experience in Catholic higher education and who has given sustained and deep reflection to the problems that confront us. His is a serious and substantive proposal; it is no idle pipe dream. Not only does it show itself to be, on the theoretical level, altogether sound, it is eminently practical; it is a plan that is wide open to relatively easy implementation and, as Dr. Ewbank points out, comes without the vast array of start-up complications and expenses that would necessarily attend any attempt to found a full-service degree-granting institution. I know of at least one secular university in this country that has established a Chair of Roman Catholic Studies, which suggests that other institutions would be open to making an arrangement with a collegium of the kind Ewbank describes. More pertinently, there is the fact that he himself has consulted with the officials of a major state university, and they showed themselves to be quite receptive to what he proposed.
One of the principal purposes of a collegium is to provide an academic environment within which the faith of our Catholic youth will be actively nourished and strengthened. There is no surer and more effective way to do this than by schooling students in those foundational metaphysical and moral principles that are embodied in philosophical science, principles that have immediate and illuminating application to theology.
Particularly germane is Ewbanks insistence that the faculty of these collegia, though they need not be many in number, must be made up of first-rate scholars and teachers. They are to be possessed of the requisite professional credentials that will attest to the fact that they are fully competent in their respective fields. This otherwise excellent program would fail were each collegium not staffed by people who have demonstrated themselves to be genuine philosophers and theologians. The program must not provide the stage for something like a prolonged academic amateur hour. Too often in the past, Catholic higher education in this country has been hampered, if not seriously harmed, by the presence in faculty ranks of people who, whatever their sincerity and earnestness of purpose, simply lacked the qualifications for the academic tasks assigned to them.
Professional competence, then, must stand as a necessary qualifying condition to be met by those who would serve on the faculties of these collegia, but that is not a sufficient condition. The crisis in Catholic education is at bottom a crisis of faith. Ewbank shows himself to be keenly aware of this, and for that reason he rightly gives emphasis to the imperative need for the faculty members of these collegia to be men and women of deep and abiding faith Catholic to the core. Each of them, ideally, should represent scintillating examples, personal embodiments as it were, of the fusion of faith and reason. As such, they would be, for their students, role models of the most telling and efficacious kind.
If the plan of academic action Ewbank proposes were to be taken with the seriousness it deserves by a critical mass of well-placed and influential Catholic educators, and then widely implemented, it would stimulate just the kind of radical re-orientation of which we are now so much in need.
Our Lady of Guadalupe Seminary
One cannot fault Michael B. Ewbanks description of the present condition of higher education in the U.S., including the collapse of Catholic higher education, which was once a thriving component. His proposal for the creation of collegia in philosophy and theology, designed to supplement the technical curricula in state and private colleges, needs to be taken seriously at the highest level possible. But here is what he is up against.
In an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal (Aug. 26), Robert J. Zimmer, president of the University of Chicago, said, A university should not be a sanctuary for comfort but rather a crucible for confronting ideas . What is the value of an education without encountering or debating ideas that differ from the ones that students bring with them to college? The purpose of a university education is to provide a critical pathway by which students can change the trajectory of their families, and can build healthier and more inclusive societies. For Zimmer, liberal politics evidently trumps wisdom.
Change the trajectory of their families? This might be the first time we have heard those words. To question accepted wisdom is old cant, dating back to Émile Durkheim and John Dewey, if not John Locke. Anyone steeped in a classical education would argue, to the contrary, that the purpose of education is to recover and convey to the student the best that has been thought and practiced in the past, which he may build upon for the future. So it has been in antiquity, in the Academy and the Lyceum, and in the High Middle Ages that produced the cathedral schools that laid the foundation of the academic institutions we know today as Oxford, Cambridge, and Paris.
If Zimmer were serious about diversity, he would welcome Ewbanks proposal, in the spirit of Robert M. Hutchins, a former president of the University of Chicago, who made room for Mortimer Adler, Yves Simon, and Leo Strauss. But due to opposition from the philosophy faculty, Hutchins was never able to secure a regular appointment for Jacques Maritain, considered to be one of the foremost Catholic philosophers of the 20th century.
Ewbank is certainly right when he suggests that those called to teach philosophy and sacred theology in a Catholic college should be of the faith they are called to serve. Strictly speaking, there is no such thing as Catholic philosophy, yet some philosophies open one to the Catholic faith while others close it as an intellectual option. Some years ago, I participated in an informal survey to determine the number of philosophy professors in the Big Ten and the Ivy League, and the survey found that Catholics held less than one percent of those positions.
The type of college Hutchins was denied at Chicago took form in the rejuvenated St. Johns College in Annapolis, Maryland. A classical education makes a difference. When Catholic colleges stressed the importance of philosophy and theology (sometimes eight courses in each over a four-year period), that curriculum gave its students an edge over others and often led to leadership positions in the larger academic world. A contrary example is provided by a professor of ethics in a major state university who confessed that he didnt hear of the Stoics until he was in his 60s!
Political control of the universities is control of the culture. Western culture is the greatest culture the world has known. The material benefits of that culture are obvious to all, but will even they survive, absent their root, in the inclusive counterculture proposed by Robert Zimmer?
Although Ewbanks modest proposal might be anathema to most university officials, it stands a chance at the community-college level, which seems less ideologically controlled and closer to the real aspirations of the people it serves.
Jude P. Dougherty
School of Philosophy, The Catholic University of America
MICHAEL B. EWBANK REPLIES:
It is gratifying to receive substantive, reflective responses to a proposal, especially when they come from men who have dedicated their lives to Catholic higher education. Dr. McInernys emphatic support of the general outline of what I formulated is well complemented by Dean Emeritus Doughertys incisive historical remarks and specific illustrations concerning how most of our universities are dominated by assumptions that seek to control culture by lashing it to a procrustean bed of virulent ideological secularism, purportedly encouraging pluralism but only so long as such excludes voices that challenge scientism, materialism, and fallaciously elucidated evolutionism.
Nonetheless, it is only within universities that what I envision might best achieve optimal results, for even though many have been adulterated, at least there remains a residual rationale or pretension of seeking truth as an end in itself. However, this can only be an incidental objective within the ambiance of community-college institutions, which are mainly aimed at instilling technical expertise and offering only introductory-level courses in arts and letters.
In spite of past herculean efforts on the part of some to found a handful of Catholic colleges based on variations of great books curricula, these tend to instill within students a certain stance of insularity in relation to the surrounding culture that is difficult to surmount. Moreover, neither these nor the recent trend to endow chairs in Catholic Studies, whether at Catholic institutions or within receptive universities affiliated with non-Catholic denominations, have proven adequate to engage and counter an accelerating erosion of any sense of right belief and right action within contemporary culture.
This is why I believe the establishment of collegia as outlined in my article can be of value in supplementing the above-mentioned endeavors. Optimally, once one is established symbiotically at a reputable university, others will follow, producing a loose consortium of similar institutions that can mutually support one another and offer new avenues in which Catholic men and women with proper credentials and talents (whether they be retired or recently have obtained their doctorates) might pursue their vocation of serving Christ in higher education.
Aside from this potentially practical benefit, such would present a Catholic leaven that involves a direct and personal presence within specific academic environments. Of course, in each endeavor one will have to justify course offerings in sacred theology and philosophy in a manner compatible with promoting true orthodoxy and orthopraxy by claiming to supply what is absent from typical secular university offerings, all while fulfilling requisites so that such are acceptable as accredited courses in a pluralist setting of secularity combined, in varying degrees, with ideological secularism.
My initial recommendation for confronting these issues might seem, at first glance, counterintuitive. In actuality, there is a ready availability of well-presented and objectively executed historical courses in philosophy centered on individual thinkers and eras in most colleges and universities. Of course, there are notable exceptions in which ideological biases might be at play on the part of a specific professor, but overall historical facts about great thinkers from the pre-Socratics to contemporary speculation are settled. Contentious areas, more often than not, tend to concern refined and specific doctrinal points of interpretation regarding what a speculator intended and achieved when the testimonies are ambivalent.
For this reason, I believe a collegium, at least as regards offerings in philosophical disciplines, needs to aim mainly at presenting and developing the implications of principles and insights harvested from the great thinkers of our past that are pertinent to the present, whether from Aquinas or others of true breadth and depth. It also must truly encourage, as Joseph Owens has argued, sound integrative thinking that is truly explanatory as to how and why the things, thought, and language interwoven in our experience and interpretation of reality are interrelated in differing ways as starting points within philosophical pluralism; yet how and why, ultimately, every philosophical approach must be judged by the enduring standard of existing things, the world, and cosmos in which we live, work, and communicate.
While the emphasis on historical studies in philosophical inquiry in virtually every college and university tends to incline students toward a contexualist and perspectivist relativism, the presence of deeply principled, dialogically engaged philosophical courses would be considered a complement to what tends to dominate contemporary philosophical programs. To be authentic, however, in any contemporary pluralist institution capable of minimal tolerance due to not being dominated by ideological secularism, philosophy as proposed and developed within such a collegium cannot be managed by sacred theology. Rather, those professing such must be thoroughly engaged in the exercise of reason as philosophical, even though they might explicitly consider questions inspired and specified by commitment to the Catholic faith in matters concerning orthodoxy and orthopraxy.
In contrast, inasmuch as persons professing sacred theology may successfully present their subject in such a collegium, there would be different challenges to surmount. It likely would be more efficacious to place inverse emphases by shifting the dominant focus and discourse to the full range of historical and social impacts that any aspects of plenary Catholic beliefs and guidance concerning moral action have had in all contexts. Such would include not only the historical origins and development of such truths in all their dimensions, but also their implications for every era, including our own.
While this is only a general proposal, it could, in its own limited manner, serve in imprinting upon the heart of flourishing secularity doctrinal and historical truths entailed by the Catholic faith. If executed well, such also would tend to neutralize ideological secularism and contribute to the possibility of an instauration of new Christian influences on contemporary culture. Such, arguably, is the only realistic option, since there is no real possibility of a strict restauratio of what is past and is no more.
The Missing Element
I read with increasing interest, fascination, and concern the series of letters (Sept.) commenting on Edwin Dygas article Why the Left Rules the Rhetorical Battlefield (June). I say concern not because I disagree with Mr. Dygas criticisms of either type of liberal those who identify as on the Left, with their self-destructive multiculturalism, or those who identify as on the Right (fatuously called conservatives in the U.S.), with their self-destructive economic globalization. Rather, what made me sit up and take notice was the framework within which Dyga, and I think all or most of the letter-writers, seems to be operating. It is a framework of an essentially secular Right/Left, conservative/liberal, East/West dialectic, with scarcely a word about what seems to me of paramount importance, the Catholic faith.
Yes, Dyga says a good word about White Christian Patriarchy in his article one wonders what St. Francis Xavier or St. Isaac Jogues would have thought about the White part of that interesting trio but fundamentally he and the letter-writers appear to think within a set of assumptions bounded by current secular cultural, political, and even military issues assumptions that have little or nothing to do with Christendom and the mission given to the Church by her Founder. I care little or nothing about the state of Center-Right parties throughout the Anglosphere; even the terms Right, Center, and Left presuppose an order based on French revolutionary parliamentary seating and have no reference to any Catholic position. But I care immensely about the state of the Catholic Church throughout the world, and particularly her spiritual and intellectual health.
Originally, the Christian world included important portions of North Africa and the Middle East, and the multiplicity of peoples who dwelt there. A geopolitical or geohistorical frame of reference that takes its fundamental concept from ethnicity is not worthy of a Catholic. If we replace the concept of Christendom with the concept of the West, we adopt a post-Christian secular concept. I know that, historically, Christendom was always supported by one or another political and military power Spain or France, for example but sadly there is none today to step into this role, though there are those who want to assert Western power on behalf of powerful but anti-Catholic economic and cultural forces.
I hope no one will misunderstand me. I am not endorsing either the shallow notion that we all can just get along fine if only we have a little dialogue now and then or if only we engage in trade with one another. Nor do I say one word against historic European civilization, a civilization that Thomas Molnar called a meditation on the Catholic faith. But Europe and its Catholic daughter colonies (such as Latin America) always had their real worth because they were the incarnation of Christendom, because they were a Christian civilization, a civilization that our Catholic ancestors wished to extend to all of mankind. The other goods they possessed, and still possess, were and are a result of their Catholic character.
Yes, multicultural liberals are hastening the destruction of Europe with their refusal to face up to what Islam is. But the remedy is not to offer, ironically enough, what amounts to a kind of identity politics, one based on a White Christian Patriarchy. Rather, the only remedy worth anything is a recovery of Christendom. Post-Christian Western civilization has been the generator of many ideologies that have treated human beings with at least as much violence as do those Muslims who commit acts of terror or rape in Europe. The fact that these ideologies have an intellectual genealogy deriving from genuine Christian thought is of no importance, except as an interesting subject for historical investigation. And Islam itself, as Hilaire Belloc and others have recognized, also has a genealogical relationship to both Judaism and Christianity, which is likewise an interesting subject for historical investigation.
If we find the notion of a resurrection of Christendom too daunting a task to think seriously about, then we might as well sit back and watch as secular Europe dies. For there is no other task that is worthwhile, and none other for which divine assistance has been promised.
EDWIN DYGA REPLIES:
Although Mr. Storck is correct in stating that the rhetorical Left/Right paradigm is drawn from the political order of post-revolutionary France, the Latin reactionaries I mentioned in the concluding paragraphs of my June article would hold Catholicism as central to their counter-revolutionary worldview as I too believe it to be. Terms that designate political theory are always historically contextual and defined by the people of the day; there is no better example of that than the continually morphing concept of what it is to be a liberal. Sometimes, terms may morph so far as to become effectively meaningless; there is perhaps no better example of this today than the term conservative. Taking Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn as a guide, what I mean in my designation of Right is a political disposition that essentially favors right order. To this I add that the sought-after right order should reflect transcendent hierarchies as understood and interpreted through the Catholic faith and tradition, a view that Thomas Molnar and others would likely also support.
According to many of my own past detractors, such a sociopolitical worldview is positively medieval. Assuming for the moment that those detractors are correct, their denunciations ironically contradict the proposition that I am arguing within a framework of an essentially secular dialectic, even if I do choose to use for the sake of brevity or convenience terms that might have formally arisen from the post-revolutionary milieu of Continental Europe. In other words, one can be a rightist and not be a prisoner of the post-Enlightenment, secular, materialist mindset indeed, I argue that a repudiation of such a mindset is essential to the rightist vision and is, therefore, quite at home in Catholicism. Ultimately, the attitude or disposition I call rightist predates the revolution and modernity: The 18th-century onslaught against throne and altar may have provided the historical opportunity for Louis de Bonald and Joseph-Marie de Maistre to formulate their political views, but those views were already latent, and their teleological basis was crafted long before the revolutionary terror left its mark on the two philosophers.
Storck is also quite correct in identifying our civilizational patrimony as part of a larger Christendom, one that exceeds the physical boundaries of the European isthmus. However, perhaps he does not appreciate the spirit with which I used the term White Christian Patriarchy. It dramatically emphasizes a contrast between two social paradigms, the other being a Daesh slave market. It is in this context that it should be understood. This term, which was, in fact, an addition to the article in its final edit, was applied intentionally, partly because I knew it would attract attention and arouse interest, but also because it begs a discussion that is all too often shut down by progressive censors across the public square.
The three aspects of the term are the primary targets of the cultural Marxist Left (however defined). But to ignore the fact that one of those aspects is targeted, simply because the identification of that group as a group offends ones sensibilities, is counterproductive and appears to pander to a leftist taboo. Many well-intentioned people who rightly condemn racist crudity become victims of the secular Lefts own mental framework by accepting the tenets of radical egalitarian ideology, which is dressed up in quasi-Christian rhetoric through disingenuous appeals to a corrupted vision of universal brotherhood. I am not suggesting that Storck is one of these victims, but he does appear to be discomfited by my inclusion of White. I reassure him that his fears are unfounded. Readers should not make the mistake of interpreting the expression of identity as a corollary or veil for other, unsavory views. Such a purported logical progression is a non sequitur, and it is exactly the kind of trickery used by those who have facilitated the destruction of European Christian civilization when they, for example, associate patriotic virtues with chauvinistic bigotry. It seems that now merely identifying a foundational people (if European) is seen as problematic. This does not strike me as particularly Christian.
Let us not forget that identity is a complex matrix of various factors, one of which is religious belief, another ones ethnicity or sex. Of course, there are many others, both voluntary and involuntary. The identification of one is not a repudiation of any other. Taken together, they represent an objective reality, or a type of truth of who and what a person is or seeks to be. Intellectual poverty results from taking one aspect of that truth and making it the whole truth, and this applies to ideological reductionists of all varieties, ethnic fetishists and religious fundamentalists alike. Both make the same mistake, and that is where identity politics become poisonous to the social fabric.
Acknowledging a non-religious aspect of identity is not a denial of the truth of Catholicism any more than acknowledging the universal nature of the Catholic faith is a denial of the existence of European people. Moreover, I cannot see how acknowledging the existence of those people or their collective interests is un-Christian or un-Catholic. Furthermore, it is not inconceivable that appealing to the broader identity matrix might be necessary if we are to recover Christendom. Those who espouse the defense of Christianity in Europe today in Poland, Hungary, and France, for example almost always appeal to their Christian heritage along with their national identity. To some, Catholicism was and remains synonymous with their national pride. Many fought for their nation-states under Catholic banners and continue to struggle under that banner to this day against the neo-Sovietization of a secular and deracinated imperial bureaucracy. Is this unworthy of a Catholic?
In any case, I hardly think St. Francis Xavier would have blinked twice or raised an eyebrow at my use of the phrase, assuming, of course, that there is anything of substance to concerns raised by some academics (such as Teotónio de Souza, formerly of the Xavier Centre of Historical Research) about his allegedly condescending attitude toward his Indian flock, and his preference for the white people of Japan and China (Los Angeles Times, Dec. 31, 1994). Such language may be concerning only in the mind of todays politically correct bonhommes, who are themselves the most recent product of the secular, cultural, political currents of modernity. If those words did fall from the saints mouth, that evidently did not prevent him from ministering to the faithful with any less sincerity or grace.
When discussing these admittedly controversial issues, we need to maintain a sense of proportion and perspective. I thank Mr. Storck for his views and the opportunity to clarify the above and further engage in this stimulating debate.